Learn about it

Find out the benefits and the potential impact screen time can have on your child and insights from parents, children and experts on the issue.

What’s on the page

What is screen time?

Screen time is the amount of time that someone spends using a device or computer, watching television or playing on a games console. Although managing this is important, focusing on the type of activities that children are doing online is essential. A recent report suggested using the Goldilocks method – ‘not too little, not too much but just the right amount’.

Screen time facts and statistics

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One in three Internet users online worldwide is under 18 according to UNICEF report

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41% of parents of 12-15s find it hard to control their child’s screen time according to the latest Ofcom Children and Parents: Media use and attitudes report 2017

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According to Oxford University research of 20,000 parents of children aged between 2 and 5 screen time limits may have nothing to do with a young child’s ability to thrive

Taking a step back and looking at research as a whole, the impact of screen time’s on children’s wellbeing is still being debated, however, now more and more experts suggest that we should focus more on what children are doing online and less on how long they are online.

What are the effects of screen time on children?

Benefits of screen time

  • Online games and activities can enhance teamwork and creativity
  • The internet gives children access to a wealth of information to help build their knowledge
  • Interacting with computers improves both visual intelligence and hand-eye coordination
  • Technology takes away physical barriers to social connections – which is important for children who find it hard to make friends or have special interests or special needs.
  • Children in households with computers perform better academically than peers who do not have ready access to computers.
  • Outcomes for children are better if they benefit from connected technology.
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Watch video on 5 signs to look out for to make sure your child has a healthy relationship with screens from Common Sense Media

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Potential risks of too much screen time

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Effect of screen time on sleep

Sleep cycles are affected by blue light from screens tricking our brain into thinking it is still daylight, making it difficult to sleep.

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Effect on behaviour

We’re creatures of habit so it doesn’t take long to get used to glancing at your smartphone 150 times a day.

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Effects of screen time on brain development

Screen-based entertainment increases central nervous system arousal, which can amplify anxiety.

Millennials are more forgetful than OAP’s; they’ve outsourced their memory to Google, GPS, calendar alerts etc. Columbia University found that when people know that they’ll be able to find information online easily, they’re less likely to form a memory of it

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Get expert advice on how to get the best out of screen time for your child over the summer holidays

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Download our full guide to help your child get the best from their screen time.

Looking at different view points

What do children say about their digital use?

The positive role of the internet

Young people recognise the positive role of the internet in relation to self-expression, developing understanding, bringing people together and respecting and celebrating differences.

  • 47% of young people use technology to support and promote respect and kindness (e.g., liking or sharing someone else’s post, posting supportive comments and signing an online petition).’

Impact of social media

As children get older social media takes centre stage particularly as they make the transition from primary to secondary school.

  • Research suggests that children believe social media can have a positive effect on children’s wellbeing, and enabled them to do the things they wanted to do, like staying in touch with friends and keeping entertained. On the other hand, it had a negative influence when it made them worry about things they had little control over

According to Ofcom research children listed the following as their top concerns:

  • Too many online ads (particularly for 8 – 11-year-olds)
  • Spending too much time on social media
  • The Nature of how some people were nasty and unkind on social media

Exposure to upsetting content

CBBC star from Millie Inbetween shares what happened when she took a break from her phone

What do parents say about children’s digital use?

Key concerns

Parents highlight the following concerns about the potential of harm the online world can expose their children to:

  • Talking to strangers
  • Sharing personal information with strangers
  • Impact of social media on child’s mental wellbeing

What do parents want to better support children?

  • To understand what parental controls are and how to use them
  • More support on the Language and tone to adopt when speaking to own children
  • A clear destination for online safety information
  • Greater support from schools to reinforce the message

Source: Parenting Digital Natives (2018)

Challenges to managing screen time 

Although two-thirds of 12-15s (67%) agree that they have a good balance between screen time and doing other things, and more than half of 12-15s disagree that they find it hard to control their screen time (53%).

Source: Ofcom Children and parents media use 2017

Tips from mom, NPR report and author of The Art of Screen Time Anya Kamenetz on ‘How much screen time is too much?

What do experts say about screen time? 

How we should view screen time now

“…rather than worrying about the catch-all notion of ‘screen time’ it might be better to focus on whether, when and why particular digital activities help or harm individual children.”

Source:  Sonia Livingstone

The idea of screen time as a one-dimensional activity is changing -The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens identifies four main categories of screen time.

  • Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music
  • Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet
  • Communication: video-chatting and using social media
  • ​Content creation: using devices to make digital art or music

Source: Common Sense Media

What are children were doing online?

Ofcom stats of what they are doing – children are doing different things when they are in front of a screen:

  • 96% watch TV for 15 hours a week
  • 40% play games on a screen for 6 hours a week
  • 53% go online for 8 hours a week
  • 48% watch YouTube

More to explore

Here are some other useful parent stories and children experiences of cyberbullying to give you more insights on the issue: